Taj-Divided By Blood is all about murder, mayhem and the Mughals. But initial debauchery that was promised in the first trailer of drugs, sex and alcohol is decidedly tame. The period drama, written by Willaim Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo, follows the Emperor Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) as he prepares to give up his kingdom to his most worthy son. That mission is easier said than done as the inner palace politics, his sons’ own ambitions and Akbar’s pride all come in the way. Also read: Sandhya Mridul on working with Naseeruddin Shah in Taj Divided by Blood: ‘Very gently, he corrects people’s Urdu’
The series begins with Akbar laying down a new decree to his sons Prince Salim (Aashim Gulati), Prince Murad (Taha Shah) and Prince Daniyal (Shubham Kumar Mehra) that the throne won’t automatically be inherited by the eldest. They each have an equal shot at the kingdom. First up, they must deal with a pesky relative, Akbar’s step brother Mirza Hakim (Rahul Bose). While the sons take back Kabul which was Mirza’s territory, they are paranoid and fight among one another.
The three brothers are examples of different types of masculinity. The two eldest party hard and fight harder, while the youngest Daniyal has the support of the religious clerics for his piety. But there are those who don’t appreciate Akbar’s sympathy towards his Hindu subjects. After a vision, Akbar even proposes a new religion – Din- i- ilahi which focuses more on humanity, equality and peace. It has few takers, including his loyal Birbal (Subodh Bhave).
The quest for the throne and its eventual power is the constant theme for Taj-Divided By Blood and over 10 episodes it grows tiresome and drawn out. The same few plot points are recycled every 2-3 episodes, with the members of the harem, including Akbar’s queens and the royal advisors Abu Fazl and Badayuni trying to push their own agenda with the princes.
The three princes, too, become like puppets as their emotional weak points are exploited. Salim seems indifferent to taking the throne and is stuck in love after seeing the beautiful Anarkali (Aditi Rao Hydari). Murad is an impulsive bully while Daniyal is hiding a romance with his court attendant Vivaan. In this retelling, Anarkali is a caged bird caught between father and son and a far more tragic figure. The slow-burn of the Salim and Anarkali romance also feels like an opportunity wasted.
While Taj-Divided By Blood has battles, deception, betrayal and grandeur, it all feels a bit lacking. The dialogue feels stilted at times, the veteran actors having a better handle on the language of the time. The grandeur of the Mughal with all opulence and beauty that we’ve come to expect in films like Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008) leaves a lot to be desired.
Naseeruddin is the most impressive of the cast, aptly playing the emperor as ‘old lion, who has set motion the very events which will go on to cause him pain. Amongst the women, Sandhya Mridul as Jodhaa Bai and Padma Damodaran have substantial roles. Aditi’s Anarkali feels almost resigned to her fate here. Dharmendra has a blink-and-miss role as Sheikh Salim Christi in the very beginning of the series. The princes who have the most screen time, apart from Akbar, fail to leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
Taj-Divided By Blood, directed by Ronald Scalpello, attempts to tackle a lot of history and present it in a new manner, but the overall effort feels a bit tame and underwhelming. If it was aiming to be the desi version of Games of Thrones, it’s quite subdued, both in scale and execution.
Taj-Divided By Blood
Director: Ronald Scalpello
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Dharmendra, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah Badussha, Shubham Kumar Mehra, Rahul Bose, Sandhya Mridul, Zarina Wahab